Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Getting Wired

I thought it was a good idea to link NY Times articles, so I thought I would link this one: If Your Kids are Awake, They're Probably Online. I read it today while I was waiting to go to a molecular meeting, and it scared me.

We've been reluctant to take the technological plunge, in my household, for kids. But this year my six year old Sicily was begging for a Nintendo DS, and it seemed unfair to make her share it with my four year old John. So they both got one, and we caved in and got a Wii as well.

After the initial excitement, the Nintendo's have largely remained on the kitchen counter, plugged into their chargers. Out of sight, out of mind. Sicily enjoys the fashion and cooking games once or twice a week, and John likes the cooking and PacMan. Now the novelty has worn off, like any new toy. I think they are a little young. With the Wii, they both are more satisfied to create little Wii Mii's and drop them into the mall than play any other games, as of yet. Now that they are back at school and activities - piano and swim - and we are into the swing of reading at night, the Wii is rarely on.

I worry about exposing my kids to too much Internet - as of right now it is largely limited to weekend mornings when my son grabs my laptop and brings it into my bed in the morning. We look at YouTube videos of snowstorms, tornadoes, and earthquakes, as well as snakes and spiders. We always end up on the birthday ecards at American Greetings - they both have enjoyed them for years. There was a hairy moment when John clicked on that Christina Aguilera and friends video "Lady Marmalade," advertised at the bottom of the screen, and we listened for a little bit, until Pink started massaging herself (Yikes!). I worried about the message he was getting, at four, so I closed it out and said the battery was dead. He still asks for that video, weeks later. "Mom! Play that song with the pretty girls dancing!" I claim it is lost.

Their school has an Apple lab where they are learning basic computer skills. But I dread the day when they will need computers and the Internet, for their assignments. I have heard about restrictions that can be placed on Internet access by cable connection lines, and I am all for that, even thought I don't know the details or logistics yet.

I think, based on my parent's decision to not have TV's in our room growing up (about which I groaned on a regular basis, but am ultimately glad of), that I will do the same for computers. Place one in a central location, where they can be monitored using them at night. No smart phones (easy to say now), and I definitely plan to place strong restrictions on access to the computer and video games. The studies in the article are compelling, and they just make good sense.

I am posting this because I am strongly interested in comments or ideas, especially from people with children older than mine who are already tackling this issue. I got some of my best nursing, sleeping, and eating advice -- when my kids were younger -- not from books but from mothering blogs and chat rooms. The moms in the trenches, or those having just crawled out, seemed to have the best advice. And since every child is different, I learned I had to try and fail a few times before I found a solution that worked for each of my own kids. Thought I might start a little early with the Internet, after reading this article.

10 comments:

  1. We also got a Wii this Christmas.... but our 6 year old is using it a lot. With a new baby in our house and unseasonably cold weather, its being used more than I would have liked. We are also trying to set limits.

    I agree with that plan of no TV or computer in their rooms.

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  2. I realize that it is a little different because my child is 18 now, but his computer/internet use has always been "self regulating". He started with a computer in his room (age 3) so that he could do interactive storybooks sent my his grandmothers..his Dad was always working on the family computer and wasn't good about "sharing". Games that he has been given that I considered a little inappropriate (but they were given as gifts...) he tired of within a week or so. The shooting games and grand theft auto and such were quickly abandoned in favor of SIM City. He has always enjoyed SIMs games more than any other. He played City of Heroes online with a family friend for awhile before he decided it was "lame" and he no longer wanted to do laundry in return for internet fees. I guess that I wanted to say not to "overstress" about it. Give them guidance about what to do and play and yes, restrict time on the computer (he had to "earn" computer time with chores and homework), but if you have a "good kid", trust that your judgement will rub off on them.
    Lately when I thought he was spending inordinate amounts of time on the web, he was actually researching new computer systems for his girlfriend's grandparents! He found them a really nice one, too.

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  3. My brother posted this amazing comment on my link to this blog on my own blog, and I wanted people to be able to read it, b/c lots of good advice. He is getting his Ph.D. in Food Science at Cornell (I'm so proud of my little bro!).


    Effie and I have talked about Internet access for kids, without coming to any definite conclusions. I'm inclined to let them have more-than-less access. Good computer and Internet skills are invaluable.

    There's two routes to take. First, use Comcast or a separate box (i.e. like your wireless router) to filter the internet. Works great, until the kids get laptops and connect to the Neighbors open network (there's 8 in our neighborhood).

    The second is a solution that's physically on the computer, like some good monitoring software. This is probably the ideal route, and there's a ton of solutions out there. They're nice because you can actually go through and see what they've been doing.

    Ultimately, kids will bypass anything, though. The monitoring software can be bypassed with a simple Operating System On A CD which you can download, burn, then put in your drive and reboot. Instant bypass of the parental restrictions. See http://www.livecdlist.com/ for a small list of these.

    I dread the day when I lose touch with technology and can't be one step ahead anymore.

    BTW, I had a TV in my room from 6th-12th grade. I watched a lot of junk (i.e. probably every Night Court produced), but did become fascinated in "Science" via the Discovery Channel at a young age.

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  4. RH+ (gosh I love getting those blood bank work-ups - cake compared to the sicklers) - after our cold spell we have been unseasonably warm this week (even trampoline time - 65-68 degrees!). When we had that cold front (yes a pipe burst and there is major water damage in my house - Southern homes aren't made for single digits) we were using a lot more Wii.

    Anonymous - that is exactly the kind of advice I was looking for. It is hard to imagine your small kid confronted with the myriad of info available on the Internet, but nice to see that responsible kids can do self-regulation and it works out OK. My six-year old already takes responsibility for far more of her schoolwork than I can remember doing at her age. I guess staying plugged in as parents is the key. My brother loved SIM city, too. Thanks.

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  5. i dont think that it is such a good idea to place restrictions on the internet. restrictions mean an obstacle to resent and then secretly get around. that is not a divide that you would wish to have with your child. it is better to teach your child to use the internet properly and responsibly, and as long as you raise your child to uphold ideals such as no war games and porn, etc. also, if you only have one computer in a central location, your children will most likely not not do anything questionable merely because of the high probability of being caught.

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  6. I guess the reason for not putting the computer in the room, when they are kids, is the same idea as not putting a TV in the room. Video games, internet, and television are stimulating, and I want their down time in their room to be for sleeping, reading, homework, and quiet play. I don't want to be a Nazi about the internet, just want to teach, as you say, responsibility. As they get older, I realize that I may need to re-evaluate the situation, and step up independence as they show more responsibility.

    I do understand your sentiment -- placing too much restriction on anything, be it candy, TV, etc., will only spur anger and heighten the attraction. I hope to create a balance.

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  7. Just echoing what Anon above said: It's going to be next to impossible to keep them off the internet. Why make it into candy for them?

    I did think your ban on the Lady Marmalade video because Pink was "rubbing herself" was a bit over the top. You son probably has no idea that's what she was doing, and even if he did, little kids "rub themselves" all the time. What better opportunity (if he even asks) to say, "That's not something that polite people do in public." Or some such.

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  8. Man, I guess I need to work on how I come across. Obviously, people are thinking I am prudish. Internet restrictions, no sparkly skanky outfits with girls rubbing themselves in front of the camera to a four-year-old watching - I guess I just need to throw in the towel as a parent.

    OK, I'm being facetious, here. My kids are still so young. I read the instructions on the Nintendo DS, and it specifically spoke about monitoring small children's usage of video games, because they tend to be unable to self-monitor to the point of overuse and anxiety. According to studies. That is what I am worried about. I remember watching my six-year-old melt into tears because she couldn't remember how to write her name in cursive. Obsessed and tried until she was blue in the face. Don't we need to step in, as parents, at some point? And just tell them when it is time to stop? They will learn to monitor themselves. But at four and six? I wonder.

    I have broached the topic of touching yourself with both kids. When my daughter decided, at three, it felt good to do so in front of company on the couch, we talked about how it felt good, and it was an OK thing to do, but more appropriate for the bedroom, not in front of guests.

    And when my son plays with himself in the tub, we talk about the same issues. Sure, it feels great to touch yourself. And it is nice to discover that, at a young age, and not be chastised for it. And there is a proper place and time for doing that. But to sit with your four-year-old son and enjoy scantily clad women dancing and masturbating in front of a camera? That feels weird to me. Call me a prude, but there are a lot issues that video brings up to me, when watching with a four-year-old. Maybe I'm wrong. But I don't think I am hurting him to wait a couple (or so) more years to show him to that sort of a video. If I want to expose him to science and nature, on YouTube, instead of watching Lady Marmalade over and over, well, that's just my prerogative as a parent.

    I hope I don't sound too defensive. I am taking all of these comments and thinking hard (obviously). I'm just trying to better explain where I am coming from. I really appreciate everything everyone has to say.

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  9. I thought of something else, last night. And I'm on call and swamped but still thinking. Do I want my four-year-old son watching scantily clad women videos with his MOTHER in bed on Sat. mornings? Making those associations with ME? No! He needs to make those associations with a non-blood related female in the future, or he will eventually have a lot to work out on the therapist's couch. I will not ban videos, in the future. However, I will not condone them at this age, in this context, in the present.

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  10. I don't mean to tell you women (who i admire very much!) to raise your children. I don't have any children and i surely have no idea how i would react in this situation, but all i can do is tell you how my life has been with electronics. I remember the first time we got a computer. My older brother and sister were estatic and i was only slightly amused. All i wanted to do was play my barbie games!

    Because of having three kids, two parents,and one computer, we very rarely got to spend much time on the computer, but i did get a couple of hours every week or so (granted, i was the youngest, so my brother and sister probably got a few hours everyday). I did get my first e-mail and instant messenger in 2nd grade, but that only entertained me for about an hour at the most.
    In 6th grade, my sister, brother, and i all had our own computers in our rooms (my brother was in college at this point), and we were able to choose when and if we wanted computer time, which i think is a part of growing up. Granted, we did have rules, but we were able to "self regulate" as a previous poster stated above.
    I also had a tv in my room, but i used it rarely because i prefered reading.

    So i guess the moral of the story is have rules as kids are growing up, but allow them freedom to choose their own path too. My parents have never had a problem with me, and i think this is partly due to the fact that i was able to make my own choices, and if i didn't quite make the right one then they would then intervene.

    Good luck.

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